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Assembly Passes Connors/Rumpf/Gove Bill to Prohibit Permanent Changes in Custody Arrangements for Deployed Military Personnel

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Veterans’ Initiative Clears Final Legislative Hurdle, Heads to Governor’s Desk

Clearing the final legislative hurdle, a veterans’ initiative sponsored by Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove that would bring sweeping changes to State law concerning custody arrangements for military personnel was passed by the Assembly.

The 9th District Delegation’s legislation (S-1051/A-634) would provide that the court, whenever making a determination concerning child custody or parenting time, would not consider the absence or potential absence of a service member parent by reason of deployment with the U.S. Military or treatment for sustained injuries as a factor in determining the best interest of the child.

Further, the Delegation’s legislation would prohibit a court from modifying or amending any judgment or order concerning child custody or parenting time, or issuing a new order changing a custody arrangement while the service member parent is deployed, unless it is in the best interest of the child.

“Protecting the parental rights of our military service members in child custody cases is an obligation that our state must fulfill in light of the tremendous stress and demands that can be placed on active service members and their families,” said Senator Connors, who serves on the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Certainly, our legislation would permit the court taking into consideration the best interests of the child. However, it would not permit the service member’s absence to be used against them. A key component of the legislation is that New Jersey would retain exclusive jurisdiction over any determination concerning child custody or parenting time during the time of the service member’s deployment or treatment for 90 days following the end of the deployment.”

The 9th District Delegation first introduced their legislative initiative in September of 2007. On June 28 of this year, the Senate unanimously passed the Delegation’s legislation.

Senator James Beach, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is co-prime on the veterans’ legislative initiative.

“It is a disservice to continue allowing single military parents to lose all custody rights or have custody arrangements significantly altered for no other reason than fulfilling their service commitments,” said Assemblyman Rumpf. “New Jersey already provides military service members with a wide range of legal protections under current law including, but not limited to, lease cancellations, college tuition refunds, and employment protections. It is, therefore, only appropriate and necessary that our state expand these protections to service members in child custody cases. Under our legislation, a non-deploying parent would be required to make the child reasonably available to the deploying parent when the deploying parent has leave time. The non-deploying parent would also have to facilitate opportunities for telephonic and electronic mail contact to the extent feasible between the deploying parent and the child during deployment.”

Assemblywoman Gove, who serves as a member of the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, remarked, “This is a significant issue for our state as, presently, there are seven military bases in New Jersey, and 64 National Guard armories in 42 communities, with a significant number of New Jersey citizens serving in the military. Not surprisingly, there is broad bipartisan support for amending current law to prevent service members’ overseas deployment or treatment for sustained injuries to be permitted to be used, by themselves, as justification or reason for changing custody arrangements.”

Having passed both Houses of the Legislature, S-1051/A-634 now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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Chris Connors

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DiAnne Gove

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